We’re home!

We’re home! Our plane touched down at 10:40 PM.

This was my first vacation in 9-months with the exception of several “long weekends.” I thought I could do it, even though I’m still unsure what “it” is. Is “it” the desire to have others admire me because I’m willing to not take the vacation time which I have earned? Is “it” the desire to have others admire me because I’m living the American dream? You know the dream, working 80-hour weeks and then complaining about working 80-hour weeks? Id it the voice of my mother in my head remind me as she did when I was much younger, “You shouldn’t complain. You should be happy you have a job. There are a lot of people out of work who would want your job.” There’s the guilt with which I grew up!

Sunday night we returned from dinner and a light rain was falling. I don’t think anyone wanted to admit it but we were all pretty happy about the rain although I’m fairly certain I was the only one who takes as much pleasure in rain as I do. The rain “forced us to take some time off.” Time off while on vacation! What does that even mean? You know you’ve said the same thing. Right now I’m typing this as I’m taking “one additional day off to recover from my vacation before I return to work.”

What a crazy time in which we live, taking time off from taking time off. We no longer know how to relax and simply be. We inaccurately throw around words like being “mindful” because we believe our vocabulary will bring happiness and when it doesn’t, we damn “mindfulness.” Of course I’m not sure we ever understood that concept of relaxing and enjoying the moment in which we are presently in and in not judging it. So anyway, back to the light rain falling on Sunday night…I was checking out Facebook, because the blinking blue light on my phone told me to. I ran across something my niece had posted on her blog. She talked about doing this challenge called #100HappyDays. I smiled, thought about engaging in this for about a minute and then moved on. I have been a therapist for almost 30-years and I do this for a living. I don’t think that makes me an expert by any stretch of the imagination as there are times when I have to work really hard for that smile, the smile which is the outward representation which denotes someone’s happiness. I read a post on Kricky’s blog (http://krickykonoronhkwa.wordpress.com/) which got me thinking. Why not? What can it hurt? Do I really take the time to notice the little things around me, everyday? There was also a comment on the website advertising this photo challenge, it challenged me with what I know all too well…guilt. The statement asked, “Can you be happy for 100-days in a row?” It then said, “You don’t have time for this, right?!” I thought for a minute and said, “I do have time for this.” It’s not about finding the time, it’s about making the time for those things which are important to us. HAPPINESS is very important to me. I have a “Gratitude” basket which sits on the corner of my desk. Everyday I add one slip of paper which denotes something for which I was thankful that day. I thought, “This challenge isn’t much of a challenge for me as I see many things everyday which bring me happiness, so, I decided to take this challenge. The challenge for me will be my perception of those things around me.

The “challenge” in this challenge, is, in my opinion the ability to look at or see things differently. A Facebook friend commented on my check-in at the Tampa airport and she asked, “Leaving?” I responded, “Yes…sadly.” My cousin commented, “Leaving is always the hardest part but you can’t be sad about the departure unless you had the thrill of the arrival!” Well said Collin.  This statement could not be more true. See, it is in our perceptions, our happiness and our sadness. Some of us cry because we no longer have a loved one in our lives and some of us cry because we are happy to have this individual cross our path and to recognize they have enriched our lives for their very presence. I’m the guy at the funeral who says, “I’m going to miss that person but I am truly thankful I had the opportunity to share as many years with that person as I did.”

If your heart so desires or if you can “find” the time, follow me on throughout this “challenge on Instagram (henrydavidthoreau) where I’ll be posting those photos or on my Facebook page. Just look me up. You know the name. There are 24-hours in a day. If you can’t find 5-minutes to be happy or to identify those things which bring or have brought us happiness, that is sadness.

Namaste.

I’m getting there or why I didn’t listen to the voice in my head.

I haven’t written my blog for a couple of months. There has been little desire and frankly, beyond writing in my journal the thought of writing seemed more like a chore.
 
I have no good reason for not writing more. It’s not that I was too busy there just hasn’t been anything in my head that I felt like writing about. This winter has been long and as of this writing (March 26) is getting on my nerves. I’ve written in the past about my love for winter and I do, love winter but seriously; I’m about done with this season. I woke this morning to snow…again. My heart sinks when I see it. I know it sounds like whining but quite a few people who I cross paths with agree, this winter can go away.
 
I haven’t run with any consistency since the Super bowl. I ran that Sunday when I had no business doing anything other than getting up, eating breakfast, lunch and dinner and watching tv. But I did run. By mile three I wasn’t feeling it. I  thought about calling my wife for a ride but I succumbed to the voice in my head which kept uttering the word “whimp.” So I kept running. I stopped three or four more times still not feeling anything other than a strong desire to get home. I thought again about calling my wife for a ride and again the voice in my head put that idea to rest. By now there was a hitch in my stride that “felt better as I ran.” The next voice in my head kept calling me “idiot.” I knew it wasn’t good. I knew this pain would result in time off. I checked in with my body throughout the run but that voice too was overpowered by the voice in my head. I felt tense, tight and had even less rhythm than I normally have. Each stride felt forced; my body and mind arguing. My mind won.  
 
Here it is a little over two months later. A few visits to the chiropractor and massage therapist and a helluva lot of stretching and I’m finally able to run 3-miles without pain. There’s some mild discomfort which hangs around long enough to remind me to not rush back. Last year I was injured and unable to run when I arrived in Florida and the entire summer was missed. I won’t let that happen this year.
 
I ran 5K on Monday and felt really good. The run felt good, physically and emotionally. If it hadn’t been for the injury and my recovery plan, I would have gone further. It was that kind of run. I have done quite a bit of walking and have used this form of locomotion as an adjunct therapy
 
For now, I’ll keep listening to that voice in my head.

I did it again.

I did it again!
 
I found myself, allowing myself to become so frustrated with this long winter and getting overwhelmed by work that I missed the signs. The signs were apparently screaming at me and I apparently had the volume muted. 
 
The bottom line is I ran when I shouldn’t have. The desire was purely to “put in more miles”. I should have listened to my body over the previous weeks. I thought I was listening because there was no pain and no discomfort. I just listened to the wrong voices. These were the voices that said, “Don’t get up (at 4:30 AM).” “Don’t run. It’s not a race to put in more miles so stop comparing yourself to others.” This voice, if I would have heeded it’s cautionary note would have saved me from pain, discomfort and more importantly the depression of not being able to run.
 
This Saturday I meet with my chiropractor. I’m taking it as a good sign that this Saturday is not only one which he had available but also there was an available appointment. Despite the diagnosis, I’ll not be running for a few weeks and when given the OK to return to exercise, it’ll be something mildly less stressful to my body.
 
I spent quite a bit of time journaling this past weekend and thinking of the decision I have made to push myself. We hear all the time “If we want to improve we need to push ourselves.” I also need to be reminded that “If we want to remain injury free we need to not push ourselves.”
 
For now, I’m OK with not pushing myself. I want to be able to run for many years to come and do so with little to no injury. An injury last year forced me to miss the entire Spring and Summer. Not a step from April through the end of August. Not running involves a level of humility which I thought I had reached…but will be tested yet again. My goal is to pass the test this time and to not have to repeat the class.

Ah January…

This is the month when I struggle the most. Despite this knowledge and what I call above average preparation, it still seems to sneak up on me.
I woke this morning to the sound of my alarm. I showered and went to the chiropractor. One of two private patients attended their appointment and I went to Tim Hortons for coffee with Scrooge. Then a trip to have an oil change and a tire rotation.
I sat in the waiting room waiting for my car to be complete, I feel tired, like my head is in the clouds. Sitting in waiting for my car to be done, I think only of going home and taking a nap. I gave out the window in disappointment; the skies are thick and grey, snow is falling and I’m already beginning to think of my busy schedule next week. An app is definitely in order with some TV, a glass of wine and my Kindle.
The maintenance to my car is complete. I know this because the salesman said he has called my name several times. I pay for the work, get into in my car and drive home. The roads are slippery with a new coating of new snow. The sadness I felt as I drove increasing as I approached home. Much as a horse sensing the nearby stable begins to pick up its gate in anticipation of reaching home and solitude.
When I reach the safety of my driveway and back my car into it’s space, I remove my jacket and place it on its hook next to my office. I retreated to my bedroom, turn on the TV and pull out the pile of mail which has been haunting me throughout the week. This is a daunting task which I attempt to put off once again so I close my eyes for a few minutes but neither sleep nor the drowsy state before sleep find me.
The day progressed and darkness descended. Surprisingly, my mood began to lift. Darkness for me during this time of year becomes something of a friend. It allows me not to see the grey skies with their low-hanging clouds. The same clouds which form an impenetrable barrier against the Sun and blankets the northeast for much of the winter that even the briefest appearances of the Sun are cause for celebration.

As pen touches paper, my thoughts pour from the nib much like the rain which is falling outside. The weather forecast is predicting 4 to 8 inches of new snow beginning Tuesday night. With this news sadness begins to find me once again. I reach for my fountain pen and write in my journal in the attempt to relieve the stress which has been building.

I hope that through the night the rain will cease, my alarm will gently wake me and I can sleep on my running shoes and allow the solitude of a long run to bring back the balance in my life.
This next week will be a week away from running. After forcing a run “to get in more miles” I hurt something in my right leg. I will also use this time to relax and write and allow the remainder of the winter to wash over me like the cold winds which blow over the snow.

Why I’m not afraid of dying

I felt compelled to share this beautiful story written David Menasche at CNN. I was moved by this story because it was a teacher who shared her passion with me that helped me to be where I am today and also helped me to share my passion for life and for change with my patients.

For 16 glorious years, I taught 11th-graders at a magnet high school in Miami. For me, teaching wasn’t about making a living. It was my life.

Nothing made me happier or more content than standing in front of a classroom and sharing the works of writers such as Shakespeare, Chaucer, Jack Kerouac, Tupac Shakur and Gwendolyn Brooks and watching my students “catch” my passion for language and literature.

I loved watching these 15- and 16-year-olds grapple with their first major life decisions — future careers, relationships, where to live, which colleges to attend, what to study– at the same moment they’re learning to drive and getting their first jobs and experimenting with identity and independence.

There wasn’t a day when I didn’t feel privileged to be part of their metamorphoses and grateful for the chance to affect their lives.

My classroom was my sanctuary, so on the day before Thanksgiving in 2006 when I was diagnosed with an incurable form of brain cancer at 34 and told I had less than a year to live, I did what I always did. I went to school. I needed my students to know that I trusted them enough to share life’s most sacrosanct passage. Death.

They, in turn, helped me to live in the moment and spend whatever time I had left living well. For six years, the only time I wasn’t in class was when I was undergoing brain surgery. I never avoided the topic of my cancer, glioblastoma multiforme, with my students, but it was not something I dwelled on, nor did they.

I covered my bald, lacerated head with a woolen hat and scheduled chemotherapy around my classes, and I got so good at being sick that I could run to the bathroom, heave into the toilet, flush, brush my teeth and fly back to class in under three minutes. They pretended not to notice. During that time, I even won “Teacher of the Year” for my region. I was grateful for every breath and felt as if I could live that way forever.

Then, two summers ago, the tumor in my head decided to act up. I was playing pool with a friend when I was struck with a catastrophic seizure that left me crippled and mostly blind. After two months of physical therapy and a grim prognosis for improvement, I was forced to face that I could no longer be the teacher I once was and I tendered my resignation.

The cancer had finally succeeded in taking me out of the classroom, but I wasn’t ready to let it take me out of the game. I wasn’t afraid to die. I was afraid of living without a purpose.

To paraphrase Nietzsche, a person who has a why to live can always find a how. My “why” had always been my students. I just needed to find a new “how.” Since I no longer had a classroom for them to come to me, I decided that I would go to them.

My students had taught me the greatest lesson of all…what matters is not so much about what we learn in class, but what we feel in our hearts.
David Menasche

In September of 2012, I posted my plan on Facebook. I said I wanted to spend whatever time I had left visiting with former students. My purpose was to have a chance to see firsthand how my kids were faring and to witness how, if at all, I had helped shape their young lives. It was an opportunity that few people ever get, but many, and particularly teachers, would covet.

Within hours of posting, I had invitations from students in more than 50 cities across the country. In early November, I set off on my journey, traveling across America by bus, by train, just me and my red-tipped cane.

Over the next three months, I traveled more than 8,000 miles from Miami to New York, to America’s heartland and San Francisco’s Golden Gate, visiting hundreds of my former students along the way. I had hoped I would discover that I’d instilled in at least some of them a lasting love of books and literature, and a deep curiosity about the world. But what my trip taught me was something even more gratifying.

What I learned from my travels was that my students had grown up to be kind and caring people.

People who picked me up when I fell over curbs, read to me from books I could no longer see, and cut my food when I could not grasp a knife. They shared with me their deepest secrets, introduced me to their families and friends, sang to me my favorite songs and recited my favorite poetry.

As I had hoped, they recalled favorite lessons and books from class, but, to my great surprise, it was our personal time together that seemed to have meant the most to them. Those brief, intimate interludes between lessons when we shared heartaches and vulnerabilities and victories were the times my students remembered.

And it was through them I realized that those very human moments, when we connected on a deep and personal level, were what made my life feel so rich, then and now. My students had taught me the greatest lesson of all. They taught me that what matters is not so much about what we learn in class, but what we feel in our hearts.

I am a pragmatic man. I know there is no reason I should still be alive. The cancer never lets me forget that it and not I will ultimately win this battle of wills. I know the disease will have its way with me, and sooner, rather than later.

My limbs are withering and my memory is fading. Yet as my world dims from the tumor growing in my head, I see ever more clearly the gifts the promise of an early death has brought.

My travels are done, but my students are never more than a phone call or an e-mail or a Facebook message away. And from the lessons I learned on the road, I, to borrow from the great Lou Gehrig, will die feeling like the luckiest man on Earth.

The Blizzard of 2014

I woke this morning to the sound of a snowplow at the apartment complex across the street from my home. After peering through the slats of the blinds and glancing at the clock, I decided to head back to bed. The temperature with the wind chill continued to hover in the below-zero teens. I decided, with my best interest in mind to return to bed. Another day escaped without a run. The thought of hiking to the gym and running for an hour on the treadmill was a thought which lasted as long as the blink of an eye.
 
I woke an hour later, grabbed my Kindle and read for an hour until Jack yawned, stretched, rose on the bed and walked toward me where he sat down. He stared at me with that questioning look asking, “Why are you still in bed? I need to go outside and I’m hungry.” The morning for me, even after a run is the time of “a thousand little things to do.” Walk the dog. Feed the dog. Take out the garbage. Take out the recycling. Shovel the driveway. Brush off the cars. Start the cars. Start the Vespa. I was happy I decided to go for the new battery last night. Another day/night of consistently below freezing temperatures would have taken it’s toll and possibly left me stranded. Jack and I returned from his walk in the brisk temperatures. As he ages I realize his step is more tentative. He doesn’t like the cold. As I grow older I realize I have learned how to tolerate the cold. When you live in the Northeast, it is what it is. If you don’t learn to manage it, you had better move to a warmer climate.
 
Jack and I both ate our breakfasts. He appears famished as he ravenously gulps his food and stands by my side as I cook eggs hoping something might fall. Of course it does  but not on purpose. I read again as I eat my eyes returning to the top of the page and again make eye contact with Jack. It seems as though he knows just where to sit. When he realizes I have made eye contact with him he retreats and moves to my side. Perhaps the thought is if he makes himself more well known, I might give in and feed him again. Or perhaps his thought is simply that I did not see him from his previous vantage point.
 
After a shower and getting dressed for work I make another pot of coffee, this one for work. I depress the plunger on the French Press the light colored oils rise to the top. The smell forces me to close my eyes and drink it in. Smiling, I wait for the coffee to brew before storing it in my thermos for the ride to the office.
Image
 
I arrived ready to see my first patient to find the first three had canceled leaving my schedule empty until 3:00 PM. I contact other patients on my call back list but none are willing to venture out in the cold and wait at a bus stop to see me for counseling. Again, it is what it is. Another thing over which I have little control.
 
As I sit at my desk, Peter Gabriel emanating from the iPod speaker on my desk, I read on-line that the blizzard warning has been lifted. When I left my home for the drive to the office, the sun was brilliantly shining and the main roads were clear. Temperatures are forecast for a high of 17 which means a wind-chill around zero. Definitely comfortable enough to resume running. The roads should be relatively clear by tomorrow morning and when I run at 4:30 AM, relatively safe from traffic. Gatorade is already mixed and warm running clothing is already laid out. Batteries for the headlamp are already charged and I’m ready to hit the roads again when the weather cooperates.
 
Namaste

I didn’t run today & I won’t be running tomorrow

I went to bed last night excited about the freezing temperatures forecast for tomorrow. Some of us who live in the North are simply crazy while others want to impress others by running in what others might deem “crazy” weather. 
 
As I lay in bed reading I heard what sounded like rain. It was a possibility as the temperature had risen steadily throughout the day. I put down my Kindle, rose and walked to the window where I parted the blinds. I bent down and squinted between the opened slats and verified the sound. It was in fact raining. I turned on the radio and listened to the weather. The forecast called for the rain to cease by the time my alarm sounded at 4:30 AM.
 
Sleep found me and let me go, several times during the night. I woke at 3:00 AM and repeated my earlier scenario. I woke, rose and walked to the window where I parted the blinds once again. I bent and peered through the parted slats and with disgust closed the opening. It was still raining. I enjoy running in the rain but not when it’s 35-degrees outside. I returned to my bed but before becoming one with the warm flannel sheets, I reset my alarm. This time, with all the hope in the world, I would not wake again until 6. Unfortunately this hope would be dashed like waves on the ocean crashing onto a rocky shore. I smiled. A decision well made. Sleep found me.
 
My alarm sounded and after completing all of those tasks which allow use to be ready for the day, I ventured outside slipping and sliding to my car. Confirmation that this decision was in fact well made. Driving to the office was further confirmation as I watched as cars slid along the ice covered road.
 
I sat in my office and watched as the weather changed several times throughout the day. As my day grew to an end the intensity of the wind picked up and with it the snow. As I drove home, I heard the weather report which indicated the winds were now considered to be a “blizzard.” Cars inched along the road barely topping 25mph. The wind speed increased to a consistent 30-plus mph and the temperature continued to drop. By the time I went to bed, the air temperature had dropped to -5 while the wind chill lowered it to -25. I’m crazy but I’m not stupid. There won’t be a run for me for the next couple of days.
 
If you’re running in the cold make sure you dress warmly and cover exposed skin. Don’t run, especially in such conditions simply to impress others. There is nothing wrong with taking a day or two off.